Swimming and autism: Indie’s story

In this blog, we talk to Indie and his mum Sarah about their first swimming lesson with SwimNE. To read more “first lesson” stories from our swimmers and their grown-ups, take a look at our first swimming lesson page

Indie’s first SwimNE swimming lesson

Indie joined SwimNE swimming lessons shortly before his fifth birthday. Despite only having four lessons before we went into lockdown 3.0, his weekly swimming lesson – and the whole experience that surrounds it – is one of Indie’s favourite parts of the week.

Sarah, Indie’s mum, never learned to swim as a child, and she was determined that Indie wasn’t going to grow up with the same fear of the water that she had developed. With weak muscles in his legs, and high functioning autism, Sarah also knew that exercises such as swimming would offer enormous benefits to Indie.

“I was quite anxious before our first swimming lesson,” Sarah explains. “It was Indie’s first ‘proper’ swimming lesson, we were going to a brand new place, and we had the added ‘complication’ of the COVID outbreak on top. Indie needs visual prompts, and he needs to feel prepared when going into new situations. It was PaddlePod who I contacted initially, and they sent me resources to use with Indie so that he knew exactly what to expect when he came to his first swimming lesson.”

“On the day of his first lesson, Indie was raring to go! He’d seen loads of pictures of the pool and the lessons, he knew who his instructor was going to be, and had watched video tours of the venue where he was going to be learning. He was so excited! I, on the other hand, felt very nervous. I knew that Indie was prepared for the lesson, but I was expecting tears when I had to leave him on the poolside. As expected, Indie got quite distressed when I tried to walk away, so I spent that first lesson sat by the side of the pool to reassure him.”

Sarah added: “As we were leaving the pool after Indie’s first lesson, one of the SwimNE coordinators explained that I wouldn’t be able to stay in the pool hall the following week. I knew that, at some point, I was going to have to head upstairs to view the lesson, but the thought of doing it so soon did worry me.”

Indie’s second lesson and beyond

“The next week, we turned up for our second lesson. Again, Indie was bouncing off the walls with excitement. He couldn’t wait to see Joe, his teacher, or the new friends he had made the week before. I got him changed, and took him onto the poolside. I then explained that I was going to go and watch from the viewing area. That was really hard!”

“Indie settled quickly – much, much quicker than I expected – and having that independence from me has really helped us both. I would have preferred to have stayed with him for longer, but it turns out that having that little bit of distance did us both so much good. Indie has thrived in his lessons, and even after two months out of the water, he is constantly talking about going back to his swimming pool. I – and I’ll be really honest here – loved having that thirty minute ‘break’. I knew Indie was in safe hands, I could see him, but I could also turn off just for a little bit. Absolute bliss!”

Why did you choose SwimNE for Indie’s lessons?

“Some of the parents on the school WhatsApp group were talking about swimming lessons, and PaddlePod was recommended several times. I had a look at their website and social media pages. I loved the fact that the content was being updated regularly, as it made me feel like it was a company that was engaged, and really on the ball”.

I don’t like to just go off other people’s recommendations. With Indie having additional needs – autism, poor circulation, weak muscles – I like to do my own research to make sure that any activities I pick are right for him. I looked on Google, but also on the likes of Facebook. Rather than just searching for swimming lessons, I looked for things such as ‘warm swimming pool’, ‘SEN swimming’, and so on.”

“Both SwimNE and PaddlePod came up on these searches. At the time, I hadn’t realised there was a link between the two companies, so I reached out to them both. I received replies really quickly. The team answered all my questions, and they also took into account Indie’s needs. They sent over photos, videos, and more so that he could visualise what his swimming lessons would be like. This was really helpful, and gave me confidence that SwimNE and PaddlePod were able to work well with children such as Indie.”

What do you and Indie love most about your SwimNE lessons?

“Indie has made some great friends at swimming, and he talks about them all the time. Being autistic, this social element is so, so important. The small group sizes meant that he didn’t feel overwhelmed, and was able to interact with children in a way that felt reassuring and comfortable for him’”

“Often, I find that Indie’s learning style is quite different to that of other children. At times, it feels like he isn’t progressing as quickly. As a parent, much as we all know that we shouldn’t compare our child to others, it’s sometimes hard not to. The other children’s in Indie’s swimming lesson were at a very similar level to him, which I thought was great – and it certainly helped with his confidence, too.”

“You can see just how much fun Indie – and all the other kids – have in their lessons. He comes out of the pool telling me that he has been jumping off lily pads, going on a mission to the moon, and hunting for pirates’ treasure. It doesn’t feel like a lesson to him – it’s fun, it’s play. It’s so effective, though, and it’s exactly how Indie learns best.”

“Finally, it’s the whole experience. For Indie, it isn’t just a swimming lesson. It’s a trip in the car to Shiremoor. It’s a chance to see his friends. It’s the grab and go tea for the way home. It’s everything!”